The Gates Foundation is under fire for unsavory investments in GEO Group, the nation’s largest private prison operator.
Dozens of people gathered for a protest in front of their headquarters in Seattle today, where hunger strike representatives from the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, national online Latino group Presente.org, prison divestment group Enlace International, and local Gates’ grantees delivered 10,000 petition signatures demanding Gates divest from private prisons and detention centers. Gates Foundation officials invited the group up for a meeting, and promised to pass on the petitions and an open letter from the group.
Ralliers held signs reading “Gates Divest” and “Dump the Prison Stock- Invest in Humanity.” A petition has been signed by 10,899 people. The group also sent an open letter to the Gates Foundation from 25 groups.
“We demand the Gates Foundation drop their morally reprehensible investment in private prisons,” said Arturo Carmona, Executive Director of Presente.org. “GEO Group makes billions of dollars putting people in cages — and they drive profits by lobbying to put more people behind bars for minor crimes. With Latinos now the largest group in federal prisons and detention centers– mostly for minor or non-existent crimes– the Gates’ investment is particularly galling for us. Unless they divest, the Gates Foundation will drag their legacy into the mud of wasteful, overcrowded and abusive immigrant prisons.”
GEO Group was most recently in the press because of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, where detained immigrants have been hunger striking in protest of deplorable conditions including inadequate food, physical abuse, and excessive use of solitary confinement. Advocates allege these abuses are only the tip of the iceberg, making the Gates Foundation’s investments in GEO Group particularly concerning.
“With the aid of investors, GEO Group has lobbied for policies that result in the mandatory detention of 34,000 immigrants each day, and the separation of millions of families,” said Jamie Trinkle of Enlace International at the event. “Investors like the Gates Foundation Trust must stop investing in this cycle of profit and misery. No one should invest in private prisons, no politician should allow this system to continue.”
Thursday’s event comes after The Gates Foundation failed to respond to private requests that they drop investments in GEO Group– which has been accused of human rights violations and lobbies for mass-incarceration. The investment contradicts the Foundation’s mission to “ensure that all people — especially those with the fewest resources — have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life.'”
“I went on hunger strike because of the deplorable conditions at GEO Group’s Northwest Detention Center–we face physical abuse, inadequate food, we can’t communicate with the outside world, and face retaliation,” said Jose Moreno, 25 year old recently released from Tacoma. Undocumented hunger strike supporter Maru Mora Villalpando added, “The Gates Foundation should be ashamed of their investment in such abuse: we demand they divest immediately.”
Presente.org is the nation’s largest online Latino organizing group with more than 300,000 members, all working to amplify the political voice of Latino communities.